UK lawmakers plan to probe Pfizer pursuit of AstraZeneca

LONDON, April 30 Wed Apr 30, 2014 6:26am EDT

LONDON, April 30 (Reuters) - British lawmakers intend to investigate U.S. drugmaker Pfizer's planned $100 billion takeover of British rival AstraZeneca in a bid to ensure scientific research and jobs are protected.

Members of the parliamentary business, innovation and skills committee are worried that the deal, which would be the biggest-ever foreign acquisition of a British company, could threaten the country's strategic interests.

"We are keen to look closely at it," committee member Ann McKechin told Reuters.

"We will see how events pan out over the next few days, but clearly given the scale of the proposed merger it is important that we consider the impact not just on shareholders but also on employees and the wider interests of the UK."

AstraZeneca, Britain's second-biggest drugmaker behind GlaxoSmithKline, is an important part of the life sciences sector and employs nearly 7,000 staff in the country.

Politicians are wary of foreign takeovers in the light of Kraft's 2010 acquisition of Cadbury, when the U.S. food group promised to keep open a key factory, only to go back on the pledge soon after the deal was completed.

"The committee previously had a great deal of concern over the Cadbury takeover, so I think this is one we will really have to closely analyse what is on offer," McKechin said.

Pfizer already has a tarnished reputation in Britain after it announced plans in 2011 to shutter a major drug research site in Sandwich, southern England, where Viagra was invented, with the loss of nearly 2,000 jobs.

The U.S. firm says it views Britain as an attractive location for both pharmaceutical research and manufacturing - helped by recent government tax incentives - but cannot make any firm commitments on future investment or jobs.

Pfizer Chief Executive Ian Read is in Britain to lobby politicians and investors about his plans. The government has so far adopted a neutral stance on the matter, but behind the scenes officials are warning Pfizer against making draconian research job cuts, industry sources said.

Pfizer has made two approaches to AstraZeneca, both of which have been rebuffed. The company is widely expected to come back with a revised offer before a May 26 deadline for it to "put up or shut up" under UK takeover rules. (Editing by David Holmes)

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